Samantha Potter left Cedar Falls High School on Nov. 10 and has not returned after reporting she was verbally abused.

CEDAR FALLS — Like most teenagers nowadays, Sam Potter has not hidden her sexuality — she’s said she's gay since she was 13.

For nearly four years, she’s navigated life with family, friends and classmates at Cedar Falls High School just as any straight student might.

“I’ve gotten no hate. I’ve been surrounded by love,” Potter, now a 16-year-old junior, said. “And right on (Nov.) 9th, it was like I was put into this completely different world.”

Wednesday, Nov. 9, was the day after Election Day when Donald Trump was declared the winner of the presidential election.

Potter said heated discussions in the hallways of her high school had happened before, usually following a Trump/Clinton debate. They always passed within a day and never involved her.

That changed in her afternoon chemistry classroom.

“A boy sitting behind me said, ‘I’m glad Trump is president — now I can treat women however I want,’” Potter said.

She turned her head reflexively to look at the boy but said nothing, she recalled. She said he noticed her head turn, however, and asked sarcastically if he had hurt her feelings.

“A boy behind him said, ‘Of course — she’s a (expletive) queer,’” Potter said. She also said she overheard him tell his friend he would “grab her by the (expletive)” — a phrase Donald Trump was caught on tape saying to “Inside Edition” host Billy Bush in 2005.

Potter said she waited until she was home to tell her parents, Laura and Steve Potter.

“We had never experienced anything like that,” said Laura Potter. “All of a sudden, the 9th hits, and she’s some kind of freak — she’s a target. It was not expected at all.”

When Potter came back to school Thursday, Nov. 10, she said the rhetoric in the hallways at Cedar Falls High School had escalated.

“I was called ‘fag,’ ‘queer,’ just one after another in the hallway,” she said.

She said she heard ethnic and racial slurs, too, directed at minorities, and about halfway through her school day asked counselor Chris Wood if she could go home. She has not returned.

Wood, through the school district, provided a statement to The Courier that reads, in part: “We have most certainly seen an increase in strong emotions in the school counseling office. With that being said, we have encouraged all students to continue to treat others with respect and dignity regardless of the differences in culture and belief.”

Cedar Falls Schools Superintendent Andy Pattee addressed the issue at Monday’s Board of Education meeting, noting there are examples of such bullying “across the country.”

“In Cedar Falls, any type of harassment or bullying is taken seriously and is not tolerated,” Pattee said. “The district policies have been established, they are very clear and they will be upheld.”

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He added teachers and staff were “working to address the isolated incidents which we are aware of” and also said it was the community’s responsibility “to be a continued role model to our students to act with respect and civility.”

School board member Doug Shaw said at Monday’s board meeting he hoped victims of bullying tell the school what was happening.

“Contact any of us, because Dr. Pattee cannot do his job unless he has the information he needs,” Shaw said.

Potter said that’s easier said than done for some students who are shouted down by kids they’ve never met.

“Some kids don’t know who’s saying what in the hallway — we have a big school. And I didn’t know who it was in chemistry,” Potter said. “The people in charge need to lay down the law.”

Potter’s cousin, junior Charles Potter, is part of the high school’s Mentors in Violence Prevention program, which is tasked with “helping people with issues of bullying.”

Charles Potter said he was keeping to himself because he knew the student body was on edge. But he had a different perspective of what was happening.

“I actually haven’t been seeing much” in terms of harassment in the hallways, he said. “Tensions were incredibly high after that election Wednesday. ... I could tell a lot of people were very intense about it, upset with each other, having arguments about it.”

But two days later, “the tensions died down,” he said. He said teachers and staff have been reprimanding those who bully like they always have.

Sam Potter got a call from her school’s administration Tuesday afternoon.

“They said there was pretty much no way to find the boys in my chemistry class; they said it’s a safe environment, and they want me to come back,” she said. “So they called to say, ‘We pretty much can’t do anything, but we want Samantha back in school.’”

Cedar Falls Schools spokesperson Janelle Darst sent a district statement to The Courier that read, in part: “Harassment and bullying of any kind is taken seriously and will not be tolerated. The district’s policies are very clear and they will be upheld.”

Potter is optimistic Cedar Falls High School administration will admit there is a new, bigger bullying problem. She hopes they will hold an assembly to remind the student body of the bullying rules and the consequences for breaking them.

She doesn’t know if she’ll return to that school. But she still wants to fight to change the school environment.

“At first, it was all about me, but now I really don’t care — I care about the other kids,” Potter said. “If nothing happens, at least I can say I did all I could.”

“Harassment and bullying of any kind is taken seriously and will not be tolerated.” Janelle Darst, C.F. schools spokeswoman

“Harassment and bullying of any kind is taken seriously and will not be tolerated.” Janelle Darst, C.F. schools spokeswoman


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